The Revitalization of Northern Afghanistan Through the Qosh Tepa Canal Project

For years, northern Afghanistan has faced recurrent droughts, diminishing water resources, and economic difficulties due to decreased agricultural productivity. However, the initiation of the Qosh Tepa canal project by the Taliban-led government stands as a beacon of hope. This ambitious infrastructure endeavor aims to transform the arid landscapes of provinces such as Balkh, Jowzjan, and Faryab into fertile grounds, promising a new era of food security and economic prosperity for the region.

Spanning 285 kilometers in length and 100 meters in width, the Qosh Tepa canal is an impressive engineering project designed to divert up to 10 billion cubic meters of water annually from the Amu Darya river. This redirection aims to irrigate approximately 550,000 hectares of desert land. The expansion in cultivable territory is projected to increase Afghanistan’s arable land by one-third, potentially enabling the nation to attain self-sufficiency in food production for the first time since the 1980s, a significant shift from its longstanding reliance on food imports.

Approximately 6,000 Afghan laborers are employed in this massive project, utilizing excavators and other heavy machinery to construct the canal. This workforce operates under the supervision of senior Taliban figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar. To date, over 100 kilometers of the canal have been completed, marking a significant milestone in the project’s first phase. This progress has brought essential water supplies to the region, nurturing the initial agricultural developments along the canal’s course.

The Qosh Tepa canal symbolizes a critical turning point for communities that have suffered through years of drought, conflict, and environmental degradation. Local village chief Mohammed Ishfaq views the canal as a pivotal solution to the region’s challenges, stating, “If we only had that water, everything will be solved.”

The project’s benefits extend beyond agricultural revitalization. It is anticipated to significantly reduce poverty and malnutrition by stabilizing food prices and providing new economic opportunities. Furthermore, it could help mitigate environmental issues such as drought and desertification, empowering Afghans to be more self-reliant rather than dependent on international aid.

Implementing such a grand-scale project under the current political and economic conditions in Taliban-governed Afghanistan demonstrates the administration’s commitment to the nation’s welfare. With an investment of approximately $100 million, funded by domestic sources including coal mining revenues, the project reflects a significant portion of the country’s annual tax income.

Despite concerns about the Taliban’s capacity for long-term management of the canal, the project’s engineers and technicians have highlighted their expertise and the use of advanced computer modeling to ensure the infrastructure’s durability. The Taliban government has also expressed openness to international cooperation, emphasizing their retention of experienced water management experts and commitment to respecting the water rights of neighboring countries according to existing treaties.

However, diplomatic efforts are needed to address water-sharing agreements with downstream nations such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which also depend on the Amu Darya river. The Taliban’s willingness to engage with regional actors towards sustainable water management practices is a positive sign of their approach to addressing this critical issue.

The Qosh Tepa canal is more than an engineering achievement; it embodies the resilience and aspiration of the Afghan people to rebuild and advance despite decades of adversity. By leveraging the Amu Darya river, the project not only aims to enhance agricultural productivity but also to foster peace, stability, and self-sufficiency across northern Afghanistan.

As the Qosh Tepa canal nears completion, it symbolizes a pivotal moment in leveraging Afghanistan’s natural resources for sustainable development. This project serves as a testament to the nation’s capacity for renewal and growth, potentially initiating a period of significant economic and social improvement. The international community’s support for such endeavors is crucial in aiding Afghanistan’s journey towards a prosperous and self-reliant future.

Noman Hossain is a freelance journalist.

The Revitalization of Northern Afghanistan Through the Qosh Tepa Canal Project